Last year, legislators allocated $900,000 to help Floridians find affordable health care through a new state-backed website. At the same time, they refused to expand Medicaid or work with the federal government to offer subsidized insurance plans. Six months after the launch of the state's effort, called Florida Health Choices, just 30 people have signed up.
It's generally pretty tough to defend the health care system in Florida, though this report from the Tampa Bay Times actually makes it look a little worse.
That's not a typo. We're not talking about 30% of the population; we're talking about literally just 30 individuals.
Charles Gaba crunched the numbers to find the costs per enrollee and found that Florida Health Choices is vastly more expensive than, say, the Affordable Care Act's healthcare.gov, while offering much less.
Indeed, Florida Health Choices is not an exchange marketplace, where private insurers compete for consumers' business. It's not. In fact, it doesn't sell actual health insurance at all. Rather, Florida spent $900,000 on an online project that lists "limited benefit options and discount plans for items like dental visits, prescription drugs and eyeglasses."
And a whopping 30 people took advantage of these amazing opportunities.
Florida Health Choices administrators "acknowledge they are off to a slow start," but still hope to appeal to more customers, possibly by adding insurance options for pets.
Whose bright idea was Florida Health Choices in the first place? That would be Marco Rubio.
As a U.S. senator, the Florida Republican has had very little success in sponsoring legislation that became law, but let's not forget that before going to Capitol Hill, Rubio was the Speaker of the Florida House. In 2008, two years before his successful Senate campaign, the conservative lawmaker championed the Florida Health Choices project.
Of course, it'd be more of a feather in Rubio's cap if the project was actually reaching a large number of Floridians.
Asked if the senator still supports the concept of Florida Health Choices in light of its poor results, Rubio's office told Dylan Scott, "Yeah, we have nothing against free market exchanges," Rubio spokesman Alex Conant said in an email.
But if Rubio's vision was for a website in which Florida consumers could purchase health care benefits, and Republicans continue to support such an approach, why doesn't Florida simply create an exchange marketplace through the Affordable Care Act, as many other states have done?
Apparently, the GOP-led state government just doesn't want to. As a consequence, nearly 1 million Floridians went to healthcare.gov to get actual, subsidized health care coverage, largely ignoring Florida Health Choices' discount plans for items like dental visits.
Florida still has the option of creating its own exchange marketplace and embracing Medicaid expansion, which would extend coverage to nearly 764,000 low-income residents. But no one seems to think that's likely.